Today I gave in to the looming chilliness and picked the last of the green tomatoes. We have had plenty of red ones, some ripened on the windowsill rather than the vine, but it’s finally time to give up on the hope of any more. It was actually a struggle grubbing up the plants, their roots were so determinedly well-developed. I always grow tomatoes in some form – from seed or small plant, indoors or outside, in pots or the ground – because I still enjoy the astonishment that something so exotic can seemingly grow so easily in our unpredictable British summers.
This year I thought I’d teach my three-year-old granddaughter some tomato growing techniques. Apparently I had forgotten that she already knows everything in the world. “I know how to do this, Nanna,” she announced confidently as I opened the seed packet and, grabbing it out of my hands, she poked a hole down to the bottom of the pot and tipped the lot in before delicately covering them over and triumphantly sticking in the name tag. “Oh well done darling,” I said through slightly gritted teeth, working out when I’d next have a chance to go to the garden centre and buy more seeds.
But I was proved wrong when the lot came up, and I ended up mobbed with plants. I grew nine on in big pots (well spaced to avoid the dreaded blight) outside the back door so I could review them while I was drinking my morning tea in the summer sun, and tie in or remove sideshoots as needed. They were watered whenever other bits of the garden were watered and fed with a bought-in tomato feed when I remembered. I applied the only two tips Monty Don has succeeded in teaching me about growing tomatoes: plant them deep and remove the lower leaves once they start to ripen. As mostly happens, they seemed not to mind the relative neglect.
We’ve had plenty of delicious tomatoes, though they took a while to ripen and then, of course, loads went red at once. It’s been tomato salad with everything, though that’s not really a hardship: sliced and topped with sliced spring onions, basil or marjoram, plus some olive oil and a tiny squeeze of lemon juice or sherry vinegar. I grew three varieties this year: Gardener’s Delight (a red cherry), Golden Sunrise (yellow, obvs) and San Marzano (a beautiful plum tomato) so visually salads have been great.
My other great treat, for breakfast or lunch, is tomatoes on toast – a combo introduced to me by Husband. I suppose this is a sort of British bruschetta: toasted homemade bloomer, spread with butter (and sometimes a smear of Marmite for extra gourmet delight) and topped with thinly sliced tomatoes and some sea salt flakes… delicious.
But now I have 3.7kg of green tomatoes to deal with. I’m not a fan of fried green tomatoes and I made several tons of green tomato chutney last year which, though delicious, is not yet exhausted. So I’ve made a spicy green tomato ketchup, flavoured with green chillies, fennel seeds and some of the marjoram I picked and dried in the summer.
And that will be the end of the harvest. It’s time to hunker down.